Testimony ends in Clay vote-buying trial

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2010 

FRANKFORT — A year to the day after federal authorities fanned out to arrest several prominent Clay County residents on vote-fraud charges, testimony in their trial ended Friday.

With that accomplished, prosecution and defense attorneys will present closing arguments Monday and Tuesday, and jurors will begin deliberating Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves said.

The eight people who will learn their fate next week are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams, who retired after he was charged; county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; his father-in-law, Charles Wayne Jones, a former Democratic election commissioner; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; William Stivers, also a former election officer; and William Bart Morris and his wife, Debra.

They are charged with conspiring to buy or steal votes between 2002 and 2007, the year Maricle stepped down as a full-time judge after nearly 17 years on the bench. Their alleged motive was gain for themselves and others, including jobs for themselves and contracts for Bowling's excavation company and Bart Morris' garbage-hauling business.

Since the trial started in early February, prosecutors have presented evidence of chronic, widespread vote-buying in Clay County, sometimes involving candidates who allegedly pooled more than $100,000 to bribe voters.

Those on trial have denied the charges. Their attorneys have pointed out that a number of prosecution witnesses are convicted felons, suggesting they were willing to lie to get help with their cases. Though those witnesses insisted they told the truth.

Maricle was the only defendant to testify. He admitted buying votes in a 1983 circuit judge's race but strongly denied involvement in any other illegal activity.

Defense attorneys tried to counter prosecution testimony with their own witnesses.

Bart Morris' children, for instance, testified that their father and stepmother were on a family trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., the day of the primary election in May 2006, when a prosecution witness had said the Morrises were paying off voters.

Bowling's wife, Sarah, testified Friday that she and Bowling joined the Morrises in Gatlinburg that Election Day and stayed over to the next day.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith, suggested in cross-examining her that the trip was a cover — that those charged had arranged to buy votes beforehand and left town on Election Day to avoid scrutiny.

James Garrison, Clay County's judge-executive from 1994 through 2006, testified Friday that he'd heard of vote-buying in the county for decades but had never bought a vote or seen it done.

A key prosecution witness, Wanda White, testified earlier that she was aware of a number of people — including Garrison — putting up money to buy votes in 2002.

On another matter, prosecutor Smith said that while Garrison was judge-executive, the county bought a piece of heavy equipment from Bowling, who was a magistrate, without taking bids.

Garrison said Bowling made the county a good deal, but Smith suggested that the purchase violated state law.

Garrison said it would be impossible for a county to follow all laws.

Defense attorneys argued after testimony had concluded Friday that the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence to justify letting jurors decide the case and asked Reeves to acquit the eight.

That is a standard motion in criminal cases.

Reeves denied the requests, saying the government's case against the eight was stronger after the defense's presentation than before.

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